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Viral Photo Captures Refugees Fleeing the US for Canada on Foot

Over the weekend, a photo showing a Canadian Mountie smiling as he picked up a young girl at the US-Canada border went viral, and the story behind it seemed simple. The group she was traveling with, fearful of the recent travel ban on refugees in the US, sought a safer haven in Canada. 

The story, however, is more complicated and dramatic than that.

The girl in the picture was one of nine people who crossed the US-Canada border on Friday, Reuters reports. The group of nine, at least one of whom held a passport from Sudan, according to Reuters, had taken a taxi to Champlain, NY, with the intention of walking across the border and filing an asylum claim in Canada. 

Read more: In Wake of Trump's Travel Ban, Justin Trudeau Shows How World Leaders Should Welcome Refugees

At the border, they were approached by a US agent, who requested documentation from one member of the group. As the agent questioned the man, the remaining eight travelers made a break for Canada, crossing the snowy gully that separated the two countries, Reuters reports. 

Upon arrival in Canada, they were helped by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), where they were photographed by both Reuters and the Canadian Press. 

Though the refugees had been living in Delaware for two years, Reuters reports, they feared that they would be unable to stay in the United States on account of President Donald Trump’s travel ban. 

Read More: No Surprise There: All 6 US Nobel Winners Are Immigrants

The man who was being questioned — sensing an opportunity — then did the unexpected.

The man began to throw the group’s luggage into the gully, and thereby onto Canadian land, before swiping the pile of passports from the US border patrol agent’s hand and dashing across the border himself. 

The US border patrol agent, according to Reuters, “yelled and gave chase but stopped at the border marker.”

The man later told reporters that in the US, “nobody cares about us.”

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The uptick in unofficial border crossings between the US and Canada can be attributed to a law, called the Safe Third Country Agreement, that states that any refugee detained at official border crossings between the two countries must be sent back to the country they were originally resettled in, while any refugee detained at an “unregulated” crossing will be granted an asylum claim in Canada. 

This has led to an increase of refugees leaving the US for Canada. The incident near Champlain was by no means the first report of both legal and undocumented refugees crossing the US-Canada border clandestinely. 

A Somali refugee whose request for asylum had been denied trekked for several hours across the snowy terrain between North Dakota and Manitoba. When the man, who was later identified as Mohamed Badal, was found by Canadian authorities, “one of his legs was swollen from the cold and he could barely speak.” 

Read More: The US Resettled 10,000 Syrian Refugees — Which Cities Are They Calling Home?

According to the Canadian Border Services Agency, quoted in the Huffington Post, more than 450 refugees requested asylum in the province of Quebec in January alone.

This tide has not stemmed in the least, despite judicial challenges to the Trump administration’s travel ban. Over the past weekend, 22 people were detained in the province of Manitoba for illegally crossing the border. 

Last Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with US President Donald Trump. The pair reportedly discussed Canada’s immigration policy in detail. Canada has accepted around 40,000 Syrian refugees in the past year and a half, while the United States accepted just over 18,000 between October 2011 and December 2016.